Series on Stress Management: Managing Stress for a healthy body

Sometimes we don’t even understand how stressed we are and misconstrue the bodily symptoms as associated to a medical issue. We must realize how stress can affect not only our mind but body as well and must take remedial steps to ensure there isn’t irreversible damage.

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A 35-year-old marketing executive was surprised when her cardiologist suggested stress management to treat her “heart attack” symptoms. Marketing director for an aggressive high-tech firm, she was in line for promotion to vice president. She drove a new sports car, traveled extensively, and had an active social life. She felt stressed occasionally, but believed she was in control of her life and doing quite nicely.

However, inside, she felt like, “the wheels on my tricycle are about to fall off. I’m a mess.” For several months, she had had attacks of shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, and tingling sensations in her fingers and toes. She had become prone to a sense of doom that made her anxious to the point of panic. She dreaded the panic attacks, which struck without reason or warning.


Her symptoms were so severe that on two occasions she rushed to a nearby hospital emergency room, fearing she was having a heart attack. The first episode followed an argument with her boyfriend about the future of their relationship; the second followed a fight at work with her boss over a new marketing campaign. Tests found nothing wrong with her heart. She left the hospital with instructions to breathe into a paper bag to reduce hyperventilation, and a prescription for tranquilizers. She felt foolish, embarrassed, angry, and confused, and convinced that she had almost had a heart attack.

She sought the advice of a cardiologist, who ran a battery of tests at considerable cost but with no physical findings. He noted her stress, though, and recommended a Behavioural Wellness Program (BWP). The BWP showed the executive how susceptible she was to stress, what was causing it, and how her stress expressed itself in her “heart attack” and other symptoms. It also provided resources for constructing an effective stress action plan that put her back in control of her life. Her utilization of medical benefits dropped off sharply and her company was able to keep a valuable employee functioning at full capacity.